Saturday, February 19, 2011
By now, unless you’ve been vacationing in Tahiti, you know about—or have seen, judging by the lines—Christian Marclay’s video The Clock (at Paula Cooper Gallery, closing today), and that it’s a 24-hour compendium of thousands of clips from films of all kinds, having to do with time and, like a clock, matching real time.
I was concerned that The Clock’s extreme popularity might interfere with its status as high art—like those (most of whom hadn’t seen it) who clucked their tongues and referred to Olafur Eliasson’s weather project at the Tate Modern, which drew thousands, as “spectacle”. The s-word is right up there with other art world pejoratives like “decorative” and “entertainment.” God forbid we should enjoy ourselves.
However the response to The Clock was not only nearly unanimous, but effusively enthusiastic, which makes it an epic moment for art. The only person I’ve even heard of who had a measured reaction was critic Ken_Johnson who, after staying just a few minutes, wrote on Jerry Saltz’s Facebook page that it made him “agitated” but thought it could be a “brilliant gimmick carried out with great care.”
“Gimmick”—forgot that that one.
After taking up Saltz’s challenge (Saltz offered Johnson $25 an hour to view it for 2 ½ hours), Johnson wrote:
marclay's wit and cleverness are immense, and the execution is unimpeachably polished. philosophically there is plenty to talk about: real time vs. fictive time; time as a construct; modern, bureaucratically regimented, machine time and human freedom. the possibility of escaping time. time vs. eternity. but i have the feeling that the mandate to fill out 24 hours of clock time -- however impressively fulfilled -- produced something kind of impersonal. is it a work of soul stirring art, the product of a prophetic visionary? or an amazing stunt?
And oh yeah, another s-word: “stunt.”
My response was, if it’s a stunt, let’s have more! And impersonal? I found it anything but. Just as interesting as the experience of watching it was what happened after. Once when I was there, the gallery was closing for the day. Everyone knew it was going to close but stayed glued to their seats while 6:00 came, then 6:01…6:02...6:03. At 6:04 the gallery assistants came into the room and started moving about apologetically and gently turning up the lights, as if it was the end of yoga class and we were all still in savasana. Walking out into the brightness I heard one assistant ask another, “What time are you coming in tomorrow?” And she answered, “4:00” – not normally a weighty exchange, but in this context my sense of their lives took on extra dimension. Out on the street every sound—cars and trucks rushing by, distant sirens, splashing tires—was amplified, meaningful, portentous. On the bus, everyone was a star, or someone with a motive, but also people for whom I felt increased interest and empathy. I had things to do, places to go, but just wanted to walk the city; after focusing on time for several hours, time had become meaningless.
More…the issue of Art in America with my 2003 cover story on Marclay on the gallery desk made me feel especially connected…see this from the BBC, read also Roberta Smith, Jerry Saltz, David Cohen. and especially music critic Ben Ratliff, who noted that The Clock made “the minutes crawl and the hours fly.” Marclay is an absolute master of editing and continuity. At one point a clip from “Frankenstein,” which was written by Mary Shelley, segues into one from “Lolita,” with Shelley Winters. Coincidence? I don’t think so.